Tourism has long been a mainstay of the Jamaican economy. However, prior to 1890, the industry was not organized. Available infrastructure was inadequate and much needed services were unavailable. The industry at that time largely comprised a number of lodging houses and inns which numbered in excess of 1400 in 1830.
With the passing of the Hotels Act of 1890, the government encouraged the building of accommodation for the Great Exhibition of 1891. Hotels were opened in Kingston, Spanish Town, Moneague, Mandeville and Port Antonio. Additional government and private sector initiatives resulted in the formation of several organizations including the Jamaica Hotel & Tourist Association and the Tourist Trade Development Board (the forerunner of the present Jamaica Tourist Board). During this time there was also a concerted effort to market the island as a health and pleasure retreat.
Today, tourism is one of Jamaica’s leading industries. More than three million visitors are welcomed to our shores each year. The elements of the tourism product include accommodation, transportation, attractions and tours, dining and entertainment (inclusive of festivals and events), and the support services.
Jamaica has a number of hotels, large and small. These vary from high rises to hotels in elegant old worlde style, and small modern hotels. The hotels offer a range of plans with dining and recreation options from All-inclusives to European Plans. Many cater to specific niche needs of groups and meetings, families, couples or sport/adventure.
There are also villas, apartments and guesthouses. These intimate small-scale properties provide visitors with greater opportunities to “create their own vacation”. The offerings include a combination of self catering and/or bed and breakfast facilities and provide viable options for the discerning traveller.
All accommodation offer modern conveniences, excellent services and good value for money. Currently the island’s room stock exceeds 26,000; approximately 5,000 additional rooms are expected to be added by 2010.
The island is served by many of the world’s major airlines both scheduled and chartered. Connections to Jamaica can be made from major cities in the Caribbean, Canada, United States of America, United Kingdom and Europe. Approximately two-thirds of total visitors arrive on island via air.
The vessels of the world’s largest cruise line companies all make landfall in Jamaica throughout the year. Cruise passenger terminals are found in Ocho Rios, Montego Bay, Port Antonio and Kingston. In 2006, Jamaica received over 350 cruise calls.
Ground transportation is readily available on island. The options range from luxury coaches, limousines and taxis to rental cars. Transport companies also provide a range of services including customized tours.
Attractions & Tours
There are numerous recreational opportunities in Jamaica. The island offers excellent facilities for tennis, golf and equestrian sports. Water sports of all sorts are available.
Jamaica abounds in scenic beauty. There are white sand beaches and rivers, large expanses of plains and mountains where the flora and fauna provide an attractive kaleidoscope of island life. For those who are inspired by nature, the island offers 252 species of birds (27 are endemic), 200 native species of orchids, 500 species of true ferns and about 50 species of coral.
Jamaica has plantation tours & great houses, dolphin parks and nature reserves, museums, galleries and soft adventure tours. There are also numerous craft markets and duty-free stores for goods, both bargain and luxury.
Dining and Entertainment
The island’s cuisine has been shaped by the people who have made Jamaica their home. Jamaica has many fine restaurants which offer an array of dining styles in Jamaican, American, Continental, East Indian, Chinese and Italian cuisines, among others. Each November, the annual Restaurant Week activities encourage locals and visitors alike to sample offerings at special prices in the island’s most renowned dining establishments.
There is a wide variety of festivals and entertainment events year round including community and international festivals. Jamaica’s native music – reggae – is celebrated in many festivals including Reggae Sumfest and Reggae Sunsplash, while the annual Festival of Arts highlights the island’s heritage in music, dance, drama, traditional folk forms and drama. Community festivals are constantly being added to the island’s calendar of events.
A number of clubs, theatres and playhouses all add to the many options for nightlife islandwide.
The island is served by two international airports – Norman Manley International in Kingston and the Sangster International in Montego Bay. There is a private jet centre in Montego Bay and four aerodromes serving small carriers for inter-island travel. Modern port and shipping facilities complement the industry’s services to cruise lines and private yachts.
Jamaica’s road network is one of the most extensive for an island of its size. New highways cut travel time significantly. Highway 2000 links towns in the southern section of the island while the North Coast Highway (currently under construction) will incorporate towns on the northern section of the island.
Modern communications networks support the tourist industry. Telecommunication services link the island with the world in real time. Mobile roaming and wireless facilities for the internet are readily available islandwide.
Tourism in Jamaica is all encompassing. It affects the life of every Jamaican. As a matter of fact, one of every four persons employed in Jamaica is part of the tourist industry. People are the foundation of the tourism product where it is the experience that counts.
As tourism thrives, linkages with other industries continue to grow as well. Tourism has direct links with agriculture and agro-processing, manufacturing and health. There are indirect links with education, sports and other sectors of the economy. This integration provides a stable basis for the industry and tangible benefits for the people of Jamaica.